The good news is that CEOs are increasingly aware of the value of UX research in product development.  The bad news is that their Number 1 challenge remains funding for research, coupled with getting the research into the development process.  In other words, they know they want it but they continue to find it hard to fund it.

Sound familiar? 

Those of us who identify as UX researchers–whether we are in large enterprise organizations, smaller organizations, or operating independently–can very likely relate to the fact that our organizations and clients are aware of the benefits of user research but don’t have ready access to resources to support it. 

This may partly be the case because, as the UserZoom report notes, only 29% of enterprises have a VP of Design or Chief Experience Officer, which means that 71% do not.  That leaves UX researchers in most companies without a C-level advocate for the budget needed to conduct UX research.

In the second annual State of UX in the Enterprise 2019, UserZoom reports that  70% of CEOs Say User Experience is a Key Competitive Differentiator.

Why Does UserZoom Care?

UserZoom is what we call in the UX field a UX research platform. It provides a service that is typically fully automated.  Your company signs up for usability testing, for example, and the platform provides the test participants, the recorded sessions, and the results within hours.

There are certainly other companies that provide this service, such as UserTesting, Loop11, and Validately, to name several, and they all offer similar services according to different pricing schemes from monthly to enterprise level.

Once upon a time, which was not so long ago, these companies differentiated themselves by the size of projects they catered to.  UserZoom was for enterprise clients on an annual subscription basis, which provided quantitative findings based on large numbers of participants in a study.  UserTesting was at the opposite end of this continuum, providing easy access to a few participants for a very low price per participant, and no contract to sign.

As the market grew, the distinctions between companies and pricing models shrank to the point where a company can get most services at any scale from any platform.  Still, UserZoom’s early stake in the enterprise space, soliciting big companies with big budgets, indicates that this is a sustainable business model that perhaps the other research platforms have chosen to imitate.

So, to answer the question as to why UserZoom cares about this research: UserZoom’s annual survey helps enterprise companies measure their engagement in UX research against the findings from the survey.  In the best-case scenario, these results could spur more commitment by enterprise organizations in conducting user research.

Automated UX Research Platforms vs UX Researchers

While UserZoom’s report is great news if you are in the UX research business, it also brings to mind an article in Ask UX Matters that I contributed to called Collaborating with Automated UX Tools.  My contribution was called The Roles of Automated UX Tools Versus UX Researchers

UX Platforms are (Often) Cheaper for the Company, But Is It Better?

Quick access to research makes it easy to build user experience into product development.  Companies with monthly or annual subscriptions to one of the online platforms can set up a study whenever a question arises from the product team and have the results before the debate over the question grows cold.  That’s good for products and good for users.

But is this research better?  For some situations, like answering a question about a new feature or getting insights into a finding from analytics, these tools are timely and helpful.

However, in most situations employing these tools, the product team doesn’t get to interview the participants before, during, or after the testing takes place. Basically, what you see is what you get.

That’s where the role of the human UX researcher is essential.  Working with the results of unmoderated usability testing from an online platform, the UX researcher can conduct some moderated sessions to probe in the areas where questions arose from the online testing.

UserZoom’s annual report shows that in-person moderated usability testing, whether conducted remotely or face to face, is still the most commonly performed research.

What Does the UX Researcher Do?

The UX researcher does many things.  Among them, the UX researcher can conduct in-depth interviews based on findings from remote unmoderated testing by one of the online platforms. The UX researcher can conduct site visits (also known as contextual inquiry) to explore the natural settings in which users work or play.  The UX research can screen and schedule targeted users for studies so that they closely align with the real users of the product.

In other words, the services typically provided by automated software platforms should not be viewed as a substitute for the work of UX researchers.  Rather, they should be viewed as support for user insights that expand a company’s knowledge of user experience.

And, that’s exactly what the UserZoom report found.  In comparing last year’s findings to this year, they noted an increase in in-lab, moderated UX research as the most performed method for enterprise teams, which, they state, seems to be at the expense of remote unmoderated testing. 61% of enterprises reported conducting research in-lab in 2019, which is up from 54% last year.

This important finding shows that in-person moderated usability testing, whether conducted remotely or face-to-face is still the most commonly performed research.  It also shows that unmoderated remote testing is a valued research activity.

If the two approaches are not viewed as competitors–but collaborators–for research dollars, it’s a win-win for tools and the people who conduct UX research.

Remote mobile usability testing is better but not perfect

Remote mobile usability testing is better but not perfect

The times they are a changin’, and that goes for remote moderated mobile usability testing, too. Technology improvements are making it easier to actually see and record your participant’s mobile device screen in a remote testing situation. Collaborative meeting platforms like Zoom and GoToMeeting now offer screen sharing capabilities on mobile devices.

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Carol Barnum

Carol Barnum brings her academic background and years of teaching and research to her work with clients to deliver the best research approaches that have proven to produce practical solutions. Carol’s many publications (6 books and more than 50 articles) have made a substantial contribution to the body of knowledge in the UX field. The 2nd edition of her award-winning handbook Usability Testing Essentials is due in mid-2020.